In defence of juries

Gavin R. Putland writes: Re. “Keane: online activists and exemplary punishment” (Monday). The propensity of governments to punish activists and whistleblowers out of all proportion to the harm that they do, or indeed in spite of the good that they do, in a blatant attempt to deter dissidents from embarrassing the government and the rent-seekers who control it, is one reason why we need a constitutional right to be tried by a jury of fellow citizens who are not obliged to give reasons for their decision.

If the jury concludes that the prosecution is politically motivated, or that the punishment is likely to be manifestly excessive, or that the “law” is, in the immortal words of Thomas Aquinas, “no law at all, but rather a species of violence”, then the jury can simply acquit the defendant in the teeth of the “law” and the facts, in which case the acquittal is binding.

“Jury nullification”, as this practice is called, is impeccably democratic. It’s direct democracy by sortition — the jurors being a random sample of the electorate. It also conforms to the principle that a more extreme decision requires a stronger democratic mandate.

It asserts, in effect, that if a law creating a crime is to apply in a particular case, it must not only be passed by the legislative branch and approved by the executive branch, but also cleared by whichever 12 electors make up the jury.

Moreover, jury nullification is essential to the equality of the three branches of government, and to the efficacy of the separation of powers as a safeguard of freedom. The legislative branch, by itself, can free the accused by changing the law. The executive branch, by itself, can free the accused by exercising discretion or clemency. But only through jury nullification can the judicial branch, by itself, free the accused. Thus, only with jury nullification can it be said that it takes all three branches of government to take away your freedom, but only one to give it back.

Obama’s second inauguration

Hugh McCaig writes: Re. “Obama’s big speech was half-baked, but that’s nothing new” (yesterday). It’s hard to know about Guy Rundle at times. He seemed to be damning President Obama with faint praise with his comments on the President’s inauguration address. President Obama laid out a clear set of issues which have been waiting for years and a willing leader to tackle with dedication and urgency. That’s what he offered. The American public were waiting for such a commitment, so what more could Obama do?

Lance v Tony

Terry Towelling writes:Pamela Papadopoulos wrote in comments (yesterday) “Lance Armstrong and Tony Abbott have a lot in common”. This is true. One is a craven, ego-driven bully with delusions of invincibility and a whatever-it-takes attitude to winning, and the other is a cyclist …

Kim Lockwood writes: They have something else in common: neither has won the Tour de France.

Peter Fray

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